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Italian Army - 1980s Esercito Italiano EI

By 1985 the army consisted of 260,000 active duty soldiers, of which 189,000 were conscripts serving only 12 months. There were also approximately 1,200 volunteers, 26,000 non commissioned officers (NCOs), and 21,000 officers. An additional 550,000 were counted as reserves, but the number of reserves available for immediate mobilization was estimated at 250,000.

Structurally, the army consisted of four main components: the Central Command and Control Organization (CCCO); the Peripheral Territorial Organization (PTO); the Training Organization and Schools Directorate (TOSD); and the Operational Component (OC). The CCCO included the army general staff, the Inspectorate General of the Combat Arms, and the Logistical Services Command, which included the medical corps, quartermaster, ordnance, motor transportation, veterinary administration, and army light aviation materiel commands. The PTO comprised six regional commands: the Northwest, located in Turin; the Northeast, in Padun; the Tuscan Emilian, in Florence; the Central, in Rome; the Southern, in Naples; and the Sicilian, in Palermo. There were also 16 military zone commands, military districts, military hospitals, storage depots, maintenance and repair installations, and supply dumps for food, fuel, munitions, and various other logistical material. The TOSD was responsible for the schooling of military officers, NCOs, and specialized volunteers. The TOSD also directed the so called double face operational and training units that simultaneously maintain operational readiness and conduct initial training for all conscripted soldiers.

The OC consisted of eight separate service branches: armored cavalry, artillery, engineers, signals, army aviation, transport, logistics, and infantry. The infantry was divided into line infantry, grenadiers, mountain, light infantry, parachutists, amphibious, and armored. These components were organized in 1985 into five armored and seven mechanized brigades grouped into four divisions (one armored, three mechanized); five Alpine (mountain) brigades; one separate mechanized infantry brigade; five motorized infantry brigades; and one airborne brigade. In 1985 there was also one missile brigade. The aviation component consisted of 52 helicopter squadrons and four aviation wings. The helicopter squadrons were responsible for reconnaissance, air to ground support, transport, and other airborne functions not performed by the air force itself.

Most combat units had NATO assignments and were deployed in the north central and northeastern parts of the country. Defense of the southern part of the peninsula and the islands had generally been left to the navy and air force. Non NATO units in southern Italy were primarily training brigades. The NATO chain of command that affected the Italian army ran from the Allied Command Europe (ACE) with headquarters at Mons, Belgium, to Allied Forces Southern Europe (AFSOUTH) with headquarters at Naples, to Allied Land Forces Southern Europe, commanded by an Italian general with headquarters at Verona.

The weapons and equipment used by the Italian army in 1985 varied in age and quality. At the beginning of the year about 1,750 main battle tanks were listed in the inventory, but nearly one third of these (550 United States M 47s manufactured during the Korean War) would be considered obsolete or at least obsolescent (see table 14, Appendix A). The remaining 1,200 main battle tanks were divided disproportionately: 300 M 60s from the United States and 920 Leopard was from the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). Many of the M-60 tanks were produced in Italy under license from the American companies holding the patents. Armored infantry and mechanized infantry units employed over 4,000 American made M106, M548, and M577 armored personnel carriers (APCs) as well as the Italian made AMX VCl. The improved version of the M 113 was also produced under license in Italy. Two other armored vehicles of Italian design and manufacture were also in service the Fiat 6614, an amphibious APC, and the Fiat 6616, an amphibious armored car.

The army also used several types of artillery weapons but had been working toward greater standardization of weapons and reducing the variety of weapons. The push toward standardization has resulted in greater use of the 155mm gun jointly developed by Italy, Britain, and West Germany and generally used throughout NATO. The mountain units were equipped with the lightweight, readily assembled 105mm pack howitzer (model 56) that had been developed in the 1950s by the Italian army. The missile brigade consisted of one Lance surface to surface missile company and three improved Hawk surface to air missile battalions.

In the 1980s the army continued to bolster esprit de corps through the adaptation of the wealth of colorful military traditions to the modern army. Personnel of the Alpine brigades, for example, wore the mountaineer cap decorated with a large black feather. Soldiers within the brigades continued to be drawn largely from the mountainous parts of northern Italy. Alpine units, first formed in 1872, had a distinguished combat record and were well regarded by the public because of their prompt assistance to victims of natural disasters, such as those affected by the 1985 dam collapse and flood in Val di Fiemme.

The Bersaglieri, all of whom were expert marksmen, were light infantry. They were organized in 1836 and were noted for their vigorous physical training. Characteristically, Bersaglieri advanced at a double time pace led by buglers. On parade they were always the final element. In 1985 the Bersaglieri served as the infantry to the armored divisions and brigades.

The amphibious regiment bore the name of the sixteenth century Venetian military unit, and its personnel were known as Lagunari, or Lagoon Infantry ("marines"). This unit selected many of its personnel from the inhabitants of the Adriatic coast near the mouth of the Po River. Since 1877 the Italian army has had special military units equipped to operate in the lagoons, marshes, and canals of this region.

In 1985 some NCOs were selected from the annual conscript pool. NCOs for the combat arms were trained at NCO schools located within each combat branch and sent as corporals to their units. They could be promoted to the rank of reserve sergeant. NCOs for the specialist branches were trained in the school for their specific branch of service. Conscript officers were selected on the basis of merit from those conscripts with high school certificates (maturitd) (see Education, ch. 2). They were given five months of training at the relevant branch school and then sent to their units with the rank of sergeant. If successful in that rank, they were promoted to the rank of reserve lieutenant upon completion of active duty.

Regular army officers (including those of the Carabinieri) were trained at the military academy in the Ducal Palace at Modem for two years. The modern military academy was formed in 1948 by the merging of the Infantry and Cavalry Academy of Modem and the Engineer and Artillery Academy of Turin. Officers then proceeded to an additional two year training period at the branch schools. Since 1949 the infantry, cavalry, artillery; engineer, and signals schools have been located in the Palace of the Arsenal in Turin. The transport school was located in Cecchignola, near Rome, and the Carabinieri school was also located near Rome.

Advanced training was given at the staff college in Civitavecchia, where selected captains undergo a two year advanced course. The joint general staff school in Rome also provided advanced training for officers of all four services, as did the Center of Higher Military Studies in Rome. The army also maintained a military preparatory school, the Nunziatella in Naples, which provided a boarding school education for prospective students in the academy at Modena.

The ground forces (270,000 strong in 1987) were the principal type of armed forces and included field troops and territorial-defense troops. Their overall leadership was accomplished by the chief of the main staff (commander) of ground forces through his staff and the inspectorates of the branches of service. The main staff answered for the state and prospects for developmentof the ground forces, their employment in various types of combat operations and combat and mobilization readiness and issues of improving their organizational structure. The inspectorates of the branches of service (infantry, armored forces, artillery, army aviation, communications, engineering troops, protection against weapons of mass destruction and military training institutions) were responsible for combat readiness and the outfitting of the personnel and the equipping of subordinate commands and troops with weapons and combat equipment, as well as defining organization structure and monitoring everyday activity.

As of 1987 the operational make-up of the ground forces was: 3 corps staffs (the 3rd and 5th Army and the 4th Mountain Army corps); 4 divisions 3 mechanized (Centauro, Mantova and Folgore) and one armored (Ariete); 13 detached brigades 5 motorized infantry (Cremona, detached command of the troops of Trieste, Friuli, Acqui and Aosta), 2 mechanized (Sardinian Grenadiers and Pinerolo), 5 mountain (Cadore, Orobicca, Taurinenze, Tridentina and Julia) and one parachute (Folgore); the detached missile-howitzer brigade Acireale; 6 detached battalions (4 tank and 2 amphibious); 4 detached artillery regiments, 6 detached artillery divisions, 2 detached Improved Hawk anti-aircraft missile regiments, a detached anti-aircraft artillery regiment, 3 detached anti-aircraft artillery divisions; 4 detached regiments and 5 detached squadrons of army aviation.

At that time the ground forces were armed with 6 Lance guided-missile launch installations, 1,730 tanks (920 Leopard-1, 300 M60A1 and 510 M47), 4,740 M113 armored personnel carriers and VCC-1 and -2 combat infantry vehicles, over 1,300 pieces of field artillery (including 164 155mm FH-70 howitzers, 24 203.2mm M110A2 self-propelled howitzers, 18 M107 175mm self-propelled guns, 260 M109 155mm self-propelled howitzers and 360 105mm modernized mountain howitzers), 870 81mm and 120mm mortars, 1,760 antitank weapons, of which 510 were guided antitank missile launching installations and 1,250 were 75mm and 106mm recoilless rifles, 132 Improved Hawk anti-aircraft missiles and 256 40mm anti-aircraft guns along with 390 aircraft and helicopters in army aviation.

The field troops were comprised basically of combined NATO ground forces in the central part of the South European theater and were intended for waging combat operations in conjunction with the troops of other countries in the bloc. They include three staffs of army corps, four divisions, nine detached brigades (five mountain, three motorized infantry and a mechanized one) and units for combatand rear support. Their complement included over 1,200 tanks, about 2,000pieces of field artillery and mortars and more than 1,350 antitank weapons,including 438 guided antitank missiles and up to 300 aircraft and helicoptersof army aviation.

The territorial defense troops were intended basically for carrying out combat operations in those regions of the country that didi not fall under the responsibility of the field troops. They also had the mission of protecting and defending important facilities and structures, fighting enemy sabotage groups and the like. All of them were subordinate to the troop commanders ofthe military districts where they were stationed in peacetime. They include four detached brigades (the Acqui and Aosta motorized infantry, Pinerolo mechanized and Folgore parachute brigades), infantry and tank training battalions, artillery divisions and units and subunits for combat and rearsupport. The units and subunits of the territorial defense troops cannot be transferred to the NATO combined forces in the course of combat operations, but rather remain under national subordination.

The detached Folgore parachute brigade (part of the "rapid deployment forces") was operationally directly subordinate to the ground forces main staff, while for issues of combat employment as part of the RDF, it fell under the armed forces general staff.

The territory of Italy was dividedin a military administrative sense into six military districts: the 1st (Northwest, Turin), 5th (Northeast, Padua), 7th (Toscano-Emilian, Florence), 8th (Central, Rome), 10th (Southern, Naples) and 11th (Sicilian, Palermo), and furthermore, the 8th Military District also included the military command of Sardinia (Cagliari). All of the districts and commands include 16 military zones that were divided into 62 regions (garrisons).

The commanders of the troops of the military districts were responsible for the mobilization readiness of the formations and units of the field troops and territorial defense troops, their replenishment with personnel to full wartime strength and the formation of new formations, units and subunits in the course of mobilization deployment of the armed forces, and in wartime for the organization of the defense of communication zones, troop movements and rear support for the troops on the territory of the district.

The call-up of over 370,000 men into theground forces was envisaged in the course of mobilization deployment, bringing their overall total to 640,000. In the view of the ground-forces command, the army corps was the operational tactical formation of the field troops. It had no permanent complement and could include, depending on the missions being fulfilled, one to three divisions, several detached brigades and combat and rear-support subunits. The mountain army corps could include up to five detached mountain brigades and units and subunits subordinate to the corps.

Divisions were considered to be the basic tactical formations. Two types existed in the ground forces mechanized and armored. The mechanized division (about 20,000 men) included a staff and a staff company, two mechanized and one tank brigade, an armored-artillery unit (a reconnaissance battalion), two artillery units, an artillery reconnaissance unit, an anti-aircraft artillery unit, a communications battalion, a combat-engineer battalion, a rear-support battalion, an infantry training battalion and a squadron of army aviation. In all there were 221 Leopard-1 tanks, over 900 infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers, 90 155mm howitzers (of which 36 were FH-70), 125 mines, 134 106mm recoilless rifles, 194 guided anti-tank missile launch installations (54 TOW systems and 140 Milan systems), 24 40mm anti-aircraft guns, over 70 Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles and 12 AB.206A1 and B1 helicopters.

The armored division (about 16,000 men) had two tank and one mechanized brigade, as well as divisional units and subunits analogous to the mechanized one. It was armed with 272 tanks, including 255 M60A1, about 800 armoredpersonnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, 90 155mm howitzers (of which 36 were FH-70), over 90 81mm and 120mm mortars, 154 guided anti-tankmissile systems (54 TOW and 100 Milan), about 100 106mm recoilless rifles, 2440mm anti-aircraft guns, over 60 Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missilesand 12 AB.206A1 and B1 helicopters.

All brigades, both detached and those that were part of divisions, had identical structures. The mechanized brigade (about 5,000 men) had three mechanized and one tank battalion, a 155mm-howitzer artillery unit and combat and rear-support subunits. The tank brigade (3,500) included two tank (51 tanks each) and one mechanized battalion, a detached motorized infantry brigade (about 5,000), three motorized infantry and one tank battalion (34 tanks), while a detached mountain brigade (6,000) had three mountain battalions and one or two artillery units, a detached parachute brigade (over 3,000) had three parachute, an assault and a training battalion, an artillery unit and a squadron of army aviation. All brigades included an antitank battalion and a rear-support battalion.

Battalions of all types included, as a rule, an administrative and support company, three companies with the corresponding name and a mortar battery (except for a tank battalion). The motorized infantry subunits were equipped with trucks, while the mechanized ones had armored personnel carriers and combat infantry vehicles.

The order ofbattle of the field-troop units depended on the missions they have to execute in the course of conducting combat operations. Thus, the 3rd Army Corps in peacetime included the Centauro Mechanized Division (the Goito and Leniano mechanized brigades and the 3rd Curtanone Tank Brigade), the detached Cremona Motorized Infantry Brigade, the 3rd Detached Artillery Regiment, a detached army air regiment (the 23rd and 53rd Air Squadrons), the 4th and 72nd Infantry Training Battalions, the 3rd Detached Communications Battalion, the 3rd Detached Combat-Engineering Battalion and rear-support subunits. Overall it numbered 23,721 men, 255 medium Leopard-1 tanks, 162 155mm howitzers, about 180 mortars and other arms.

The 4th Mountain Army Corps had five detached mountain brigades (Julia, Cadore, Tridentina, Orobicca and Taurinenze), the 7th Detached Tank Battalion of military police, the 3rd Armored Artillery Division, the 4th Detached Artillery Regiment, the 10th Detached Artillery Division, the 4th Detached Army Air Regiment (the 24th, 44th and 54th Air Squadrons), the 4th Detached Communications Battalion, the 2nd and 4th Detached Combat-Engineering Battalions and a detached parachute company a total of 31,692 men, 68 tanks, 270 pieces of field artillery, about 290 mortars and other combat equipment.

The 5th Army Corps had two mechanized divisions the Mantova (the Isonzo and Brescia Mechanized and the Pozzuoli del Friuli Tank Brigades along with the 52nd, 73rd and 120th Minelaying Infantry Battalions) and the Folgore (the Gorizia and Trieste Mechanized and the Vittorio Veneto Tank Brigades along with the 33rd, 53rd and 63rd Minelaying Infantry Battalions and the Serenissima and Sile Detached Amphibious Battalions), the Ariete Armored Division (the 32nd and 132nd Tank and 8th Mechanized Brigades), the command of the troops of Trieste (the 225th Motorized Infantry Battalion and the 14th Artillery Division), the detached Acireale 3rd Howitzer-Missile Brigade (the 27th Heavy Artillery Regiment, the 3rd Lance Missile Division, the 1st and 9th 203.2mm Howitzer Divisions and the 92nd Infantry Training Battalion), the 13th Detached Tank Battalion of the military police, the 7th and 48th Infantry Training Battalions, the detached 5th Army Air Regiment (the 25th and 55th Air Squadrons), the 33rd Detached Radioelectronic Warfare Battalion, the 5th Detached Communications Battalion, the 1st, 3rd and 5th Detached Combat-Engineering Battalions and the 5th Detached Rear-Support Battalion. It numbered some 65,752 men, about 750 tanks (493 Leopard-1 and 255 M60A1), up to 350 pieces of field artillery and over 490 mortars, and other weapons and combat equipment.

The army corps did not include several mechanized and motorized-infantry brigades, subunits of field and anti-aircraft artillery, army aviation,communications, ECM and the like. All of them were included in units that were centrally subordinate, while some of them, for example the 4th and 5th Improved Hawk Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiments (four units in all), the 121st Detached Anti-Aircraft Regiment (96 40mm anti-aircraft guns), the 17th, 21st and 22nd Detached Artillery (24 40mm anti-aircraft guns each) and the 235th Infantry Training Battalion, were organizationally reduced to the command of the anti-aircraft artillery directly subordinate to the ground-forces main staff.

The territorial troops order of battle included detached brigades stationed on the territory of the 7th (the Folgore Parachute), 8th (the Acqui Motorized Infantry), 10th (the Pinerolo Mechanized) and 11th (the Aosta MotorizedInfantry) military districts.

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Page last modified: 26-02-2013 10:55:07 ZULU